As part of a tour to discover what New Zealand has to offer when it comes to agricultural innovation and technology, FG’s machinery and technology specialist, James Rickard, spent a couple of days at the country’s famous Fieldays event.
Well known in the UK as a supplier of mainly herringbone and rotary milking parlours, Waikato Milking Systems’ latest concept uses composite materials to construct a rotary parlour platform.
Using materials more akin to aircraft construction, they allow the platform to be eight times stronger than an equivalent concrete platform and considerably lighter, says the manufacturer - a 60 point rotary parlour with concrete platform weights about 26 tonnes, while an equivalent parlour with composite platform weighs just five tonnes.
The net result of the industry first, says the manufacturer, is a lot lighter load on the running gear, extending its working life and reducing overall running costs. Price of a composite platform is about £700 to £800 more per stall.
A big driver of the development of the new Centrus platform is from Waikato’s push into housed dairy systems as opposed to pastoral systems which New Zealand is famous for.
Grant Wisnewski, Waikato Milking Systems’ international sales manager says; “Housed cattle systems present quite different challenges compared to pastoral. With housed systems, cows tend to be a lot heavier, 850kg compared to 450kg, and therefore our parlours need to be able to cope with such animals.”
Other benefits of the composite platform is its ability to flex by 7mm with varying load, avoiding peak load build up in areas leading to less stress on the overall parlour. It is also chemical resistant, with no etching as you get with concrete, which is better for hygiene and cleanliness, says the firm.
Waikato Milking Systems produces about four rotary parlour per week and can build any size a customer wants, including odd numbers like 43 points. With ambitions to be number one in the world for rotary parlours, it is present in many countries and has fitted the largest rotary parlour in the US, a 110 point machine. It is also just about to fit the first composite parlour in the UK.
As a pioneer of the electric fence, it is fair to say Kiwi company Gallagher knows a thing or two about electric fencing systems.
Founded by Bill Gallagher in 1938, the company is now headed up by his son Sir William Gallagher who has since made the company the number one electric fencing company in the world, it says. It is now present in 130 countries and comprises three divisions; animal management (which includes fencing and weighing), security and fuel.
As a specialist which designs electric fence posts to be used in pastoral based systems, Gallagher reckons it has come up with the ‘perfect fence post’. With no metal parts, the composite post features a 16mm diameter fibre glass core encased in a high density polyethylene coating, which is moulded to shape. At either end of the post are glass-impregnated tips, which help penetrate the ground and protect the top of the post from the driving tool.
Mark Harris, Gallagher’s marketing manager says; “The construction of the post offers strength, flexibility and good ground-holding properties. They are also UV resistant and corrosion resistant.”
Designed for use in semi-permanent situations such as pastoral systems, the firm suggests they are ideal for use in rented land situations where boarders can often move, along river banks which are normally awkward to fence with permanent fences, and on arable land which has introduced animals and cover crops into the rotation.
To install, posts are driven into the ground by a steel post driver, and can be removed by a special tool. Plastic clips are used to hold the wire on the post at various heights and wire spaces. Animals can also press on the wire from both directions without the wire coming off.
Compared to steel or wooden fence posts often used in New Zealand, which are cheaper per post, Gallager says its new posts offer a cheaper overall cost of ownership, which are easier to transport, install, remove, and they can be used again.
Two options of posts are available in the UK; 950mm for sheep and cattle, and 1,350mm for horses.
Originally set up 50 years ago by the New Zealand government as its research arm, Lincoln Agritech is now a company in its own right owned by Lincoln University.
Running as its own subsidiary, its 50 staff carries out research for the government and private sector, and produces products and technology. It operates in five main areas; electronic sensors, environmental, precision agriculture, software and materials, with a focus on applied research which looks for practical outcomes to challenges.
One such project is one which looks at the challenges of monitoring nitrate levels in farmland, something which farmers in nitrate vulnerable zones in the UK may appreciate.
Lincoln Agritech’s group manager for environmental research, Dr Blair Miller says; “Originally developed to continuously monitor water supplies and courses in urban areas, the biggest challenge with this type of technology in the past has been the sheer size and expense of the monitoring equipment.”
“For agriculture, our premise was to get the reliability and accuracy of expensive sensors but at an affordable price, making the technology more accessible to farmers. This would allow them to continuously monitor nitrate levels in water tables, thus building up a picture of what is actually going on in real time, rather than periodic testing which does not give a clear picture.”
Using optical sensors to measure nitrate levels, the cylindrical device is compact enough to be lowered down 50mm bore holes and wells. To work, the device needs dropping in a saturated well. Depending on water table, about a depth of 20m is recommended to gain a decent picture of what is going on, any deeper and it is effectively like looking further back in time, so less relevant. The device also has the ability to connect up to third party loggers, to monitor activity. Service requirements are every two months to clean the sensor.
Dr Blair says; “By being able to understand nitrate levels below the root zone, the device allows farmers to properly manage nitrogen inputs across the farm. This may mean a change to stocking or fertiliser regimes, but more importantly it will actually verify or disprove blanket policies set by governments.”
Most farms will probably need about two of the US$5,000 sensors, says the firm; one monitoring the water table upstream and one downstream. The company adds after 12 months you will have a good understanding of what is going on. The device is now in the final stages of testing and should be available in about 12 months’ time.
Founded 60 years ago, Yardmaster is no slouch when it comes to the business of slurry management, making it the dominant brand in New Zealand.
Starting out with a range of pumps, its portfolio now includes stirrers and separators. And with a desire to integrate all this technology and make it automated, Yardmaster’s latest venture has seen it team up with fellow Kiwi company TagIT.
Josh White, TagIT’s managing director says; “TagIt brings to the party its 16 years of farm technology knowhow, specifically its Halo monitoring and management systems, which are widely employed on farms to manage milk and water.”
Using its Halo management software, the company wanted to complete its offering to farmers with the ability manage slurry, which led it to get in touch with Yardmaster. Coincidentally, Yardmaster also reached out to TagIT at the same time.
With a mutual interest in each other’s technology, the companies are now able to offer a complete slurry management system, monitored and controlled from the Halo ‘dashboard’ on a desktop computer. As well as documentation, of applications for example, historical data can also be recalled and compared to grass growth rates, for example.
All slurry handling features can be automated, says the firm, including stirring, separation, re-circulation of dirty water for flood washing of buildings, diverting slurry to an irrigator and the monitoring of the irrigator itself. In addition, all flow rates can be altered for different applications.
For safety, several features have been built into the system including store level indicators, pressure sensors and obstacle detection (for the irrigator). Alerts can be sent via texts or e-mail.
About 350 farms are currently using the technology in New Zealand, which is also sold into Australia and the US, and the company is hoping to adapt the technology to suit UK farming requirements.
With eight subsidiaries around the world including the UK, Tru-Test is a 52-year old Kiwi company founded by a Waikato dairy farmer with a passion for agricultural technology.
Products range from simple electric fencing systems to clever milk metering units - the latter continuing to make up the bulk of the firm’s sales.
Its latest development is designed to take its livestock weighing and identification systems a step further with the ability to transfer and manage animal data easier. This is facilitated by its new cloud-based system, MiHub.
Tru-Test’s Brendan O’Connell, head of strategy and product says; “MiHub software comes free with Tru-Test’s weighing systems, allowing users to monitor, track and predict growth rates and targets, whether this be for getting breeding times right or for matching slaughter house requirements.
“Via a login system, data can be shared with other parties including nutritionists, vets or food processors, for example.”
Identification readers are linked to the weighing system via Bluetooth, with the final data transfer from the weigher to the MiHub via WiFi. Data is constantly transferred to the hub with no need for a big data ‘dump’ at the end of the day.
Tru-Test’s weighing systems vary from simple entry level devices up to top-spec packages with full data collection ability. These are also compatible with other parties’ management software.
MiHub is currently live in New Zealand, and is set to be made available to UK users this August.
As a company which has never been one for creating ‘me too’ products, 50 year old firm Tow and Farm prides itself on coming up with alternative ways of doing things.
Founded by engineer Bryce Easton, the business’ current enthusiasm lies with its range of Tow and Fert applicators, a concept which makes more of fertiliser products by suspending them in water.
First shown in the UK in 2014, the concept is slowly beginning to find its market in the UK. The sprayer-like device is said to be able to handle virtually any type of fertiliser product and in any from, from fine powder to granules. Whether soluble or insoluble, the fertiliser product is kept in suspension in water inside the applicator’s tank. This is achieved via constant agitation.
Particularly with fine powder, it means fertiliser can be applied more accurately and evenly. In addition, the firm says the finer the product, the more efficient it is because of the increase in surface area. As a result, it says up to 50 per cent less fertiliser can be used.
Due to the machine’s foliar application technique, Tow and Farm says the concept works best on grassland which has be sown randomly, i.e. with a harrow-type system, not drilled. This offers greater chance of leaf coverage, rather than the fertiliser just hitting the ground where it will be less efficient.
In addition, for best results, grassland needs about 1,800kg of dry matter per hectare, equivalent to about three to six days of grass growth.
Currently, the firm has about 250 users of the Tow and Fert system in New Zealand, says the manufacturer, and a handful in the UK and Ireland, which are generally farmers following the Kiwi grazing system. Tow and Farm’s sales and marketing manager, Tim Henman says; “Typical return on investment is about two to three years.”
The Tow and Fert range consists of three tank sizes; a 1,000 litre trailed machine, a mounted 1,200l version and a 4,000l trailed model.
The largest model can offer working widths up to 24m offered by two nozzle outlets. Mr Henman says; “It is the size and design of the nozzle which allows it to handle a wide variety of products without problems including fish and seaweed-based products.”
Available now in the UK, the largest, 4,000 litre machine retails at £65,000.